Goosebumps


For Jack Black, the only terrifying thing about this movie are the reviews.

For Jack Black, the only terrifying thing about this movie are the reviews.

(2015) Family Comedy (ColumbiaJack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Amy Ryan, Jillian Bell, Ken Marino, Halston Sage, Steven Kreuger, Keith Arthur Bolden, Amanda Lund, Timothy Simons, Karan Soni, R.L. Stine, Caleb Emery, Gabriela Fraile, Nate Andrade, Sheldon Brown, Melissa Brewer, Vivian Kyle, Clare Halstead. Directed by Rob Letterman

In the 90s, kids flocked to author R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. The books were essentially Twilight Zone episodes focusing on monsters that terrified many a kid back in the day. Stine continues to be a prolific author but has moved on to different series, but Goosebumps is the one that started it all.

When young Zach Cooper (Minnette) moves to a small Delaware town, he’s not exactly thrilled. He’s still dealing with the death of his dad a year ago and his mom (Ryan) has found a job as an assistant principal at the high school there. She thinks a new start in a new town might bring Zach out of the doldrums and while Zach puts up a good front, it’s clear he’s hurting.

Then he meets the girl next door and for any teenage boy, the girl next door is excellent tonic. Hannah (Rush) is beautiful and seems interested in him, but her tyrannical father (Black) seems more interested in keeping Zach as far away as possible. Georgia might do.

But Zach and his self-appointed friend Champ (Lee) discover that Hannah’s dad is none other than R.L. Stine and that the manuscripts in his basement, all of which are locked, contain the spirits of the monsters he invented and that unlocking those manuscripts transforms the creatures from imaginary to very real. And those real monsters are out to wreak havoc all over town, led by Slappy (also voiced by Black), a homicidal ventriloquist’s dummy that is seeking revenge against Stine for incarcerating him inside the manuscript for so many years.

The concept is a swell one, especially given the popularity of Stine and how many kids – who are now adults with kids of their own – know all of his books backwards and forwards, and for them and kids who are looking at their teen years with impatience, this is going to be a must-see and although Halloween has come and gone, this is excellent kid fare for that season of the year.

Black is as manic as ever as Stine, although his accent is a little bit bizarre. Black, being the human cartoon that he is, is perfect for this kind of audience and he doesn’t disappoint. He doesn’t get the majority of laughs here – Lee gets those – and Minnette is essentially the protagonist but Black is really the presence here. None of the other actors can really compete with his personality which is bigger than life. Bigger than ten lives, to be honest. Rush is also memorable as the ingenue.

The CGI creatures – and there are a lot of them – range from giant praying mantises, abominable snowmen, murderous garden gnomes, hungry zombies, implacable alien invaders and a gigantic Venus flytrap, among others. Pretty much every monster from the prolific series makes at least a cameo appearance, if you can call the Invisible Boy an appearance. In some ways it becomes sensory overload; a few monsters go a long way but hundreds soon becomes kind of background noise.

Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe does a nice job of setting the mood, and a setting of an abandoned amusement park is both lovely and bittersweet (Zach and Hannah have an encounter there early in the movie). I could have done with a few more moments like that although frankly, that’s not what the target audience is looking for so I can understand why those moments were few and far between.

The humor is pretty much vintage Nickelodeon although there are some clever bits, most involving Lee as the cowardly wingman. The pacing here is a little bit choppy although it generally moves pretty quickly and to Letterman’s credit he gets right into things without an overabundance of exposition. That’s both good and bad; good for those devotees of the book series who want to get right into it, bad for those less familiar with the books who need at least a little bit of explanation.

For the most part this is harmless entertainment and little more than that. This isn’t going to be (and never was intended to be) anything more than a distraction for a couple of hours. And that isn’t a bad thing as far as I’m concerned. For whatever it’s worth, this movie will probably be on a lot of family viewing lists for many Halloweens to come. Not a half bad fate for a movie, don’t you think?

REASONS TO GO: Some scary monsters. Nifty concept.
REASONS TO STAY: Loses something if you haven’t read the books. A little over-the-top in places.
FAMILY VALUES: Some creature scares (a few of them intense) and some rude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The real R.L. Stine makes a cameo as a teacher named Mr. Black, who passes Jack Black, as R.L. Stine, in the school hallway.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/22/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 59/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fright Night
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: Documented begins!

Mister Foe (Hallam Foe)


Mister Foe

Hallam Foe likes to watch.

(Magnolia) Jamie Bell, Ciaran Hines, Claire Forlani, Ruthie Milne, John Paul Lawler, Lucy Holt, Sophia Myles, Jamie Sives, Maurice Roeves. Directed by David Mackenzie

Sometimes a lead character can be someone you wouldn’t want to spend time with ordinarily, at least on the surface. The mark of a good movie, though, is that you are still enthralled by that character despite not liking them much.

That’s what happened to me in this movie. Scottish youth Hallam Foe (Bell) is still mourning his mum, drowned in the local loch. His dad (Hines) has married Verity (Forlani) who was once his secretary. All three of them live in a large house in the Scottish borders along with Hallam’s sister Lucy (Holt). While mum’s death was ruled an accident, Hallam remains convinced that she was murdered by Verity, whose marriage to his dad seemed a bit too convenient by half.

The shock of his mum’s death has made Hallam, well, a little bit weird. When he feels stressed he puts on a badger hat and paints his face with lipstick, eyeliner and eye shadow in a kind of war paint and when he’s really stressed he puts on one of his mum’s old dresses. He also has a habit to spy on his neighbors and family, particularly when they are having sex. Yes, he’s a Peeping Tom.

After Verity and Hallam have sex in the treehouse Hallam’s architect dad built for him, Verity forces Hallam to leave so that dad doesn’t find out. Hallam runs away to Edinburgh where he finds a peeper’s paradise. He finds a home in a rooftop clock, menial work in a hotel where he is stunned to find that the human resources manager Kate (Myles) is the spittin’ image of his dear departed mum. So he watches her sleep and have sex with a brutal married manager (Sives), eventually taking up a relationship with her himself.

However, he is full of problems and his rage towards his father for marrying whom he considers to be the murderer of his mother needs an outlet. Soon Hallam’s world begins to come crashing down around his ears.

This was a movie that could easily have been as unlikable as the lead character seemed to be on paper, but as it turns out it wasn’t. That’s a credit both to director Mackenzie, whose light touch kept the movie from spiraling into indie angst, and to actor Bell who delivers a nuanced performance that keeps Hallam sympathetic even as he’s doing unsympathetic things. Bell, who first gained notice in Billy Elliott, is growing as an actor by leaps and bounds. This is a role that he may not be necessarily remembered for, but one that will build his reputation among those who can take his career further. That’s not a bad thing to say.

The supporting cast doesn’t let him down either. Myles, who has quite the baby face, delivers a performance of great depth, bringing a very complicated character to life in a believable way. Hinds, one of the most dependable character actors out there, gets to stretch a little bit as a man who is very cold on the outside that is hiding a great deal of pain on the inside, while Forlani gives “cast iron bitch” a whole new spin.

The soundtrack contains a goodly number of Scottish indie bands, from the Orange Juice on up to more contemporary bands such as Franz Ferdinand and Four Tet. Still, the band has that kind of indie smugness in places, getting a little too clever in its presentation for its own good.

This is one of those movies that is solid, entertaining in its own way but more successful as a human study. The insight into a troubled soul can be dark and scary, but Mister Foe makes it a little bit less so; in fact, it makes it downright desirable.

WHY RENT THIS: An affecting performance by Bell with plenty of great support, particularly from Myles, Forlani and Hines. A tremendous soundtrack with plenty of superb Scottish indie bands, too.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sometimes the movie is too clever for its own good.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of sexuality here including some fairly twisted stuff. Quite frankly this should be for adult audiences only.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is based on a novel by Peter Jinks.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The End of the Line